Tag Archives: Buddhist practice

Confidence Trumps Knowledge In Our Practice

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

The Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said, “Instead of having a deep understanding of the teaching, we need a strong confidence in our teaching, which says that originally we have Buddha nature. Our practice is based on this faith.” This statement which comes form his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind got my attention. I have not thought of my practice in this way before. Not knowledge, but confidence is what we should cultivate is what Suzuki is stressing. This emphases on confidence over knowledge can be a strong agent for change. It asks the question, “Do we really believe what we know?“ I speak often about how Buddhist practice and study can be viewed from a philosophical, psychological, and spiritual perspective. As a philosophy, Buddhism is a very comprehensive and profound system of thought-processing. But traditional Zen practice is not taught or practiced with a great deal of philosophical explanations. Focusing rather on our personal experiences, the exercise of breath control and meditation, are considered more essential for coming to a realized state of body-mind.

I have not considered the term confidence before when expressing how one should consider their practice, I use other words. Although without confidence the student/teacher relationship is in jeopardy. What I like about exchanging the word ‘understanding’ to ‘confidence’ is that it places focus on the importance of acceptance of what we are learning as we practice. Not just on knowing by analysis something about Buddhist thought. It is more about acceptance, assurance, and certainty that the path we are on can achieve insight. That insight may also awaken the body-mind to the bigger picture of how we are in this world. We can be aware, but the subject of this awareness must transition into acceptance. When that happens we have gained confidence of its value, and our practice is strengthened as a result. Continue reading


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Red Bird On The Fence

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

Buddhist philosophy and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, but there is a real difference, especially in how we internalize them in our practice. The term spirituality for me refers to an individual’s solitary seeking for and becoming awakened to the deeper nature of the relationship between self and the greater reality of the Universe. Spirituality is about reflecting on the mystery of life. A mystery is beyond language to explain, no matter how hard we try. One reason we developed mathematical symbolism to express complex thought. It involves direct experience or realization of vast awareness beyond language to express. Spirituality carries with it a conviction that how we view the world around us is limited by our human limitations, and it requires some sort of spiritual transformation that acts as a catalyst for us to achieve an inner awakening in order for us to achieve our full potential. It is primarily personal, but it also has a social dimension. Spirituality derives from inner contemplation, and can be awakened at any time during our lifetime.

For thousands of years before the dawn of the world religions became social organisms, man’s spiritual life thrived. I can just imagine one of our early ancestors stepping out of his cave one dawn morning and encountering an intense sunrise. That experience could have sparked an inner awakened moment that many have caused intense emotions; emotions that all humans are capable of experiencing, even for pre-historic man. This human experience which underpins all genuine spiritual practice, is what the Buddha also experienced that special morning when he became transfixed on the morning-star; his moment of enlightenment. But we can also find similar stories of awakening to something special in the life of Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed. It is interesting that Siddhartha and the others experienced there life changing spiritual revelation when absolutely alone, and most likely in deep contemplation.

Our minds are awakened, or jarred awake, when we too begin to comprehend the significance of Siddhartha’s new worldview, as we begin to validate our experiences with those of an extraordinary man that lived 2500 years ago. It is therefore quite natural and appropriate that spirituality should become more primary in our practice as we grow in our understanding of the Buddhist teachings and discover more substantial and ultimate nourishment in the living reality of the dharma. We need the Buddhist teachings, yet we need direct inner spiritual development in order to strike a balance in our practice. A philosophical and academic Buddhist education are valuable carriers supporting an ethical and moral platform for our personal and community life, but they must not be allowed to choke out the breath of the human drive to seek spirit and wonder that acts as the driver for enriching the human hart. Continue reading

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Transforming Negative Experiences Into The Positive

I would like to share with our readers a response I gave to a question received on the EDIG website about the duel posting on Karma: Where The Ideal Meets The Real.  The question was, “How does one keep positive thoughts when harmed by others?”  Here is my answer:

One thing we must realize about karma is that it has no value until we give it value.  Cause and effect is a universal reality and is pervasive in all things.  Nothing is permanent, even happiness.  The most we might experience is a sustained state of mind that is free from disharmony.  But even that mind state has limits.  It is not unreasonable to assume that bad things happen to good people.  I am not speaking about natural events that is built into our human condition, such as illness, old age, and death.

It takes some practice to see situations separate form their causes, and eventual consequences.  But neither thoughts or actions are without a cause.  There is always a chain of causes.  This starts effecting us before our birth and continues throughout our lives and even beyond our deaths.  When we experience an event, either good or unpleasant, it is natural to ask questions.  The what if game, or the blame game, or the why me game, or the thank-god game.  This especially is what happens when we feel we have been harmed by others.  It may seem more natural if something bad happens as an “act of nature.”  But when it happens at the hand of others, we generally take it personally.  And this is where our practice and a more enounced understanding of how our mind process events comes into Buddhist perspective.  Especially relative to karmic consequences.

It is easy to say that our mind is up to its old tricks trying to justify, rationalize, and find ways to make ourselves feel better.  The real question might be, “Who is harmed here?”  Our everyday-mind (ego) answers me!  Negative karma and positive karma are like seeds.  If either are not planted in soil, will they ever grow?  If they are planted in soil, but given no water, will they grow?  What if they are planted in soil, given water, but never allowed light to reach them, will they grow?  Karma is like seeds.  Causal conditions must be just right in order for them to grow into effects.  Without conditions they will never flourish.  This is why we must always be sure to avoid creating conditions for negative karma to ripen, and instead create conditions only for good karma to grow.  This is most important with our thoughts.  If we identify, nourish, and expand harmful events, either real or perceived, we only continue to harm ourselves.  Harm is a value we give to an event.  Harm retards the feeling of happiness.  When this happens, it growns into resentment and the chance that we will continue the harm by expanding it towards others.  A process that if not checked at the very beginning of an unsatisfactory action, it could quickly get out of hand.

Do you know the problem here?  To much thinking!  Thinking about the past, especially going over bad things that have happened in our minds again and again, serves no purpose.  It is completely useless mental activity.  In fact, it is worse than useless, because it can only harm our happiness.  This is not to mean we should never analyze perceived harmful events in a way to find lessons that adds to our wisdom-file.  This is how a mature Buddhist practice develops insight.  It is the uncontrolled thought constructions that holds on to the negative and labels them harmful.  The mind which gets caught up in useless fantasy and projection is only a self-serving mechanism that has the potential of separating us from others, even if it is clothed with higher purpose.  When we trip on something on our path we did not see coming, we pick ourselves up, maybe apply a band aid to a scratch, and keep walking.   This accident will cause us to be more watchful.  So it is a learning experience.  This is the same with negative causes.  We get up, fix the problem if necessary, and keep walking the path with renewed or additional experiences to add to our wisdom-bag.  We do not hold on to them, we store our experiences for later reference if needed.

Out of every adversity is an equal or greater opportunity.  It is up to us to see through the fog of negative thinking.  It is hard not to think negatively about a harmful experience.  It is that self generated negative thinking we need to abandon.  Another’s harm is only momentary, self inflected negative emotions can last a life time.  Live happy, live with compassion, live with maximum enjoyment, share with others, all these things will override the unhappy.  It is not as important what people do to us, as it is what we do to ourselves that counts.  Because it may effect how we treat others.  Be a duck, let water roll off your back.  When you learn to do that, the water will return to its source eventually.  And that is how karma works, and quacks.

/\ David Xi-Ken Shi

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